Tradition – Sicilian-American


“On Christmas Eve, Sicilians eat 7 different types of fish.”

Liz informed me that she has been observing this tradition for as long as she can remember.  Every Christmas Eve, her mother cooks seven different types of fish for the family to eat.  During normal meals, they eat some sort of chicken or red meat, but not on Christmas Eve.  Usually her mom prepares Salmon, Calamari, Shrimp, Mussels, Clam, Tuna, and Snapper.  This combination of sea creatures varies from year to year depending on what the family feels like, and whether or not family from out of town [with certain preferences] is visiting.  The most important piece is that seven, no more no less, types of fish are prepared and consumed.  This tradition is observed by most Sicilians and has biblical implications.  Seven is arguable the most important number in the bible.  As Italian Food Editor Paula Laurita describes the importance of the number “seven is a number of perfection”—the seven days of creation, seven sacraments of the Catholic Church to name a few (Italian Food Editor).  Though seven is an important number for Sicilians, Liz herself has always wondered why seven types of fish are consumed on Christmas Eve.  Yes, the number seven is important, but why this food on this particular day?  This question shows how with folkloric traditions sometimes people are clueless,  but traditions are observed religiously nonetheless—almost the same as if they were recorded somewhere.

This is an interesting piece of folklore because numbers and what they mean to different cultures are a big piece of folklore.  To Indians, good luck and good things come in groups of fours.  To us Americans, good things come in groups of threes (third time’s the charm,  three little pigs, etc.)  It is thus interesting to examine the way in which Italians observe a tradition in sevens.  It also must be noted that both the origins and reasons for this tradition are mysterious.  Eating seven different types of fish and not seven different types of vegetables or meats may have been a random tradition or may have come about for a very specific reason, either way it has given Italians a way to celebrate the importance of the number.

Laurita, Paula. “Italian Christmas Eve: Feast of the Seven Fishes.”  Italian Food Site. 2008